A Computer Model Predicts that Civilization would Collapse by 2040

by Ane Krstevska

A Computer Model Predicts that Civilization would Collapse by 2040

A team of British scientists put back the end of the world by at least 50 years.

In the early 1970s, a computer program which was called World1 has predicted that the Earth would run out of food and resources and that the civilization would likely collapse by 2040. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT programmed it to consider a model of sustainability for the world.

The prediction has resurfaced as Australian broadcaster ABC re-circulated a 1973 newscast about the computer program. However, the findings of the computer programming never really went away, as its results were re-evaluated over the nearly 50 years since they appeared for the first time.

Now, some scientist at the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University claimed that we have a little more grace, which is until the end of this century, or the year 2100.

The computer model has been commissioned by the Club of Rome, which is a group of scientists, industrialists, as well as government officials, focused on solving the problems in the world. The organization wanted to discover how good the world could sustain its rate of growth, based on some information which was available at that time. World1 was developed by the father of system dynamics, named Jay Forrester.

When it was deciding the fate of civilization, the program considered a few variables, which include pollution levels, population growth, as well as the availability of natural resources and global quality of life. Such factors were also considered in tandem with one another, opposite to separately, following the perspective of the Club of Rome that the problems of the world are interconnected.

This kind of approach was new on the 1970s, even if the forecast World1 produced was not intended to be precise. The program also produced graphs which demonstrated what is going to happen to those metrics in the future, without accounting for some things such as climate change. All the graphs indicated a downward trajectory for the planet Earth.

According to the ABC segment in 1973, World1 identified 2020 as a tipping point for civilization. It was said that around this year, the condition of the planet would become highly critical.

However, this was not the end of the model. In 1972, the Club of Rome published a book, titled “The Limits to Growth,” which built off work of World1 with a program called World3, which was developed by scientist Donella and Dennis Meadows, together with a team of researchers. At that time the variables were population, food production, industrialization, as well as pollution and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources.

This time, "The Limits to Growth"  said that the collapse of civilization would be in 2072 when the limits of growth would be the most readily apparent and result in population, as well as industrial declines. There was an immediate and harsh criticism of the book. Others argued that the views of the book of what constitutes a resource could change over time, leaving some data shortsighted to any possible changes in consumption habits.

To come to their conclusion, the team of British scientists has updated the 1970s computer model which was used to predict how finite the resources of the Earth are.

Four decades ago, the researches failed to take into account some factors which means that we are safe for several years yet. Some of them include the industrial sector, creating less pollution,  as well as using less energy that it was expected, based on trends in the 1970s. The industry will also do more to clean up pollution than the earlier forecasts assumed.

They also did not foresee a huge rise in the service sector and telecommunications which make the economy of the world more productive. Innovations in agriculture have permitted more food to be grown on the land of the world.

Aled Jones, who is the co-author of the study, stated:

In the 1970s, they made a good attempt, but it was probably too pessimistic. The limit is pushed back to the second half of this century. A lot of questions remain on exactly when planetary limits are going to be reached and what the consequences are going to be.

When you are running the newly-calibrated World3 model forward in time, society still collapses this century, based on some reasonable guesses of these limits, even though there is of course great uncertainty around exactly what these limits are.

The society also started addressing some of the issues outlined in 1972, but we have to learn some lessons from what we already achieved and focused our efforts on avoiding these limits.

Four years ago, in 2014, Graham Turner then a research fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, collected data from various agencies within the United Nations, the National Oceanic, as well as the Atmospheric Administration and other outlets, plotting their data together with the findings of the World3 model.

Turner, together with a Melbourne-based journalist named Cathy Alexander explained that neither the World3 model or the own confirmation of Turner of it signaled that the collapse was a guarantee.

They wrote:

Our research is not an indication that the collapse of the world economy, environment, as well as the population is a certainty. We also do not claim that the future is going to unfold exactly as MIT researches predicted back in 1972. Wars could also break out,  and so could genuine global environmental leadership too.

However, our findings should sound an alarm bell. It looks unlikely that the quest for ever-increasing growth can continue unchecked to 2100 without causing some serious negative effects – and those effects might come sooner than we may think.

Ane Krstevska



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